alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Stellar alpine climbing up a narrow chasm to a summit with five-star views makes Hitchcock Gully a must-do on every ice climber’s list.

An ascent of Hitchcock Gully on New Hampshire’s Mount Willard delivers impeccable alpine snow, ice, and mixed climbing in a stunning setting. A true classic with incredible views and thoughtful movement, it is among the best moderate ice climbs in New Hampshire.

Quick Facts

Distance: 3 to 4 pitches, plus approach and descent
Time to Complete: Half day for most
Difficulty: ★★★ (WI3, M2-M3, Grade II)

Season: November to April
Fees/Permits: None


Hitchcock Gully on Mount Willard sits atop the northwestern side of Crawford Notch. To climb it, park in the climbers’ lot at the top of Crawford Notch, just south of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center on Route 302. Getting on Route 302 is easy from both the east, via Route 16, and from the west, via Route 3 (exit 35) and Interstate 93.

Credit: Tim Peck

Walk the Rails

From the climbers’ parking lot at the top of Crawford Notch, hike south on the railroad tracks, crossing two train bridges (one large, one small) and turning a corner. As the tracks open up with a wonderful view of Mount Webster and Crawford Notch, look for an obvious snow gully on your right. A nearby granite marker and a cross beside the railroad tracks are two great landmarks. Crampon up here.

Credit: Tim Peck

Start Up the Gully

From the tracks, Lower Hitchcock starts out as a narrow gully with steep walls on either side. Depending on conditions, the first hundred feet or so are often a mix of Grade I ice and moderate snow climbing. While many solo this section, breaking out the rope here is a good idea if the snowpack is thin or anyone in your party isn’t particularly confident in their crampon technique.

After this initial step, the walls on either side of the gully disappear and Lower Hitchcock temporarily transitions to climbing what is usually a well-trod trail of snow with forest on either side. If there’s a typical winter snowpack, expect moderate snow climbing with the occasional very easy ice move mixed in. In leaner snow conditions, prepare for icier terrain and consider whether to break this section into a series of short pitches.

Depending on the conditions and speed of your party, it should take between 20 and 30 minutes to reach the business of Lower Hitchcock. You’ll know you’re there when the gully walls begin to rise up around you and the gully itself abruptly gets quite steep. A tree and a flat spot are on the right as you approach—this is a great spot to transition to roped climbing if you haven’t already.

Credit: Tim Peck

The Mixed Pitch

The business on Lower Hitchcock begins easily enough—a straight shot up the steepening gully to the base of the obvious rock step. In good conditions, it is typically a snow climb with an occasional moderate ice move mixed in. Before committing to this section, consider breaking out the rope, if only so that you don’t have to do so in the tighter, more exposed flat spot just before the mixed pitch. (This is especially useful if you’re climbing as a party of three.)

Finding the mixed pitch is pretty obvious—it doglegs right as the main gully runs into a cave. To send it, work your way into the cave (there’s often ice here), then climb right into the mixed terrain, staying along the left edge of the step. Depending on the conditions, there may be a move or two that feels a little insecure. Most rate the leftmost variation described here in the M2 to M3 range, although it may well feel harder. Ascending a little right of the crux sometimes offers an easier variation.

Small ice crews, an assortment of mid-sized cams (Black Diamond gray, purple, and green work best), and a few larger-sized nuts should be more than enough to protect the mixed pitch. There’s also a little tat that you can clip. Anchor at the obvious tree, then bring up your second(s).

Pro Tip: Not psyched on mixed climbing? The nearby Left Hand Monkey Wrench offers a pleasant, all-ice alternative at comparable grade, with almost-as-easy access to Upper Hitchcock Gully.

The Interlude

From the tree anchor atop the mixed pitch, follow the well-worn path uphill for no more than 50 yards. The interlude connects Upper and Lower Hitchcock, depositing you at almost the base of Upper Hitchcock—a deep, ice-filled cleft that ascends the remainder of the face. Once you hit the base of Upper Hitchcock, watch out for falling ice from the gully as well as some of the nearby routes.

Credit: Tim Peck

Upper Hitchcock

Most break Upper Hitchcock into two pitches: the first pitch up through the cleft to a tree anchor and the second up the short, but often steep, bulge at the top to the safety of the trees above.

To begin, ascend the right-leaning cleft. Narrow throughout and steepening as it goes, the climbing in this section is terrific—good ice in a great position that is somewhat reminiscent of a mini-Pinnacle Gully on Mount Washington. Just beware of your belayer below; the narrow gully funnels any falling ice straight down.

After almost a full rope length, you’ll reach a little alcove, with a small tree anchor on your right and a steep ice bulge in front of you. Build an anchor here, either off the tree or in the ice, and bring up your second(s).

Assuming you’re continuing up (it’s possible to rap from here and exit via a different route), ascend the bulge from the alcove, then scamper up the remainder of the gully. As it transitions from ice to snow, continue up, looking for the obvious anchor tree that’s located just as the terrain begins to flatten out. Bring your party up, then transition to the flat, open spot a touch higher to begin prepping for the descent.

Credit: Tim Peck

The Descent

If the snow isn’t too deep, the easiest (and safest) descent is to follow what’s usually a well-trod herd path to Mount Willard’s outstanding overlook, then hike 1.6 miles down the Mount Willard Trail. A pleasant stroll, climbers should expect to be back at their cars in 30 to 45 minutes. Because the trail is sometimes icy, wearing your crampons or bringing Microspikes is recommended.

If the snow is deep or the path isn’t broken in, it’s possible to retrace your route, rappelling Upper Hitchcock, descending to Lower Hitchcock, rappelling the mixed pitch, then downclimbing or continuing to rappel. If you choose this route, be careful—Hitchcock is a popular route and you may well be rappelling onto a party ascending below you.

Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A standard ice rack is a good starting point for sending Hitchcock Gully. Since the ice can be thin during early season ascents, having a few “stubbies” in your kit—like the 10 cm Petzl Laser Speed Ice Screw—is a good idea.
  • Lower Hitchcock’s mixed pitch can feel pretty hard, especially for those not used to rock climbing in crampons. If it’s taking your buddy a while to send, stay toasty at the belay with the EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket (Men’s/Women’s).
  • The Petzl Caritool Evo Material Holder attaches to almost every harness and makes it super-easy to keep your ice screws accessible and your climbing gear organized.
  • A collapsible pole that’s easily stowed on your pack makes the approach to and standard descent from Hitchcock Gully a breeze. The Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ Trekking/Running Pole is an excellent choice for the job.
  • There’s a reason why you see so many ice climbers climbing with Petzl Nomics—they’re awesome. And they are perfect for sending Hitchcock Gully.
  • A helmet is a must on Hitchcock Gully and the Black Diamond Vision Climbing Helmet will keep your noggin safe and sound.

Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s almost always cold and windy in the Mount Willard climbers’ parking lot, so stay warm by arriving with your boots on and your bag packed.
  • The early bird gets the ice! Mount Willard is an uber-popular alpine climbing destination. Arriving early is a good way to beat the crowds. And if the Mount Willard lot seems too full, several other comparably rated climbs are a short drive away, including Shoestring Gully and the Silver and Flume Cascades.
  • If you’ve worked up an appetite sending or just want to plan your next route over a few beers, Rek’-Lis Brewing Company is a quick motor up Route 302 in Bethlehem.
  • Not sure if you’re ready for Hitchcock Gully? Contact the EMS Climbing School to arrange for a guided ascent, or spend a day (or two) brushing up on your ice skills with one of our guides.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Hitchcock Gully recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!